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Foreign Correspondent
by international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis


Copyright: Eric S. Margolis, 2006

January 24, 2006

NEW YORK - This week, the sputtering trial in Baghdad of former President Saddam Hussein resumes. Watching this lurid event leaves one with strongly mixed emotions.

The trial has become a grim circus. The presiding judge refuses to return to court, witnesses are intimidated, and defense attorneys murdered. There is no proper legal procedure, no rules of evidence, no cross-examination. In short, very little that resembles a genuine legal proceeding.

In one sense, it’s good to see the tyrant who terrorized so many on trial for his life. Punishing Saddam would send a cautionary message to the Mideast’s other dictators and despots that they cannot trample human rights. I covered Iraq since 1975 and was threatened with hanging as a spy by Saddam’s secret police ­ so I have a good taste of life under the Ba’ath regime.

But morally and legally, Saddam’s trial is a travesty of justice, an old-fashioned show trial worthy of the 1930’s Soviet Union. Its goal is not to determine Saddam’s guilt or innocence, but to justify the US invasion of Iraq, which, by the way, was a blatant violation of international law.

The Baghdad court lacks any legal basis, being created by the puppet regime installed by the US after the invasion. Its strings are being pulled by the Pentagon and US Dept of Justice.

Saddam has no proper legal defense. Unnamed judges hearing the case are bitter Shia foes of Saddam’s regime. Witnesses remains secret and beyond cross-examination. Defense witnesses risk murder by Shia hit squads. Saddam is not allowed to speak freely in his defense, and the world is denied hearing his-first person testimony. Every time he raises the question of western backing for his regime, the microphones are cut off. Very Soviet.

Pre-trial publicity ­ the vast propaganda campaign by the US to demonize Saddam Hussein - and Iraqi TV programs (controlled by US authorities) about Saddam’s alleged crimes, would trigger a mistrial under any proper legal system.

In short, we see a kangaroo court, designed to find Saddam guilty and probably order his execution. Make no mistake: Washington wants Saddam dead, or buried alive in one of CIA’s secret gulags.

Dead dictators tell no tales. If allowed to fully testify, Saddam would reveal the whole sordid story of America’s long, intimate collaboration with his regime, and produce embarrassing revelations of how the Reagan and Thatcher governments encouraged, armed and financed Iraq’s 1980’s invasion of Iran.

The former Iraqi president could detail how the west sold him materials and technology to make poison gas. He could reveal a fact that I discovered when in Baghdad in 1990: that the British government had secretly sent technicians to Iraq to develop and produce five strains of germs to be used in weapons, including anthrax and plague. These were to be employed against Iran in the final stages of the Iran-Iraq War. Watching Tony Blair condemn Saddam Hussein for trying to make wmd’s is truly world class hypocrisy at its most sickening.

Saddam is currently being tried for ordering a massacre in a small Shia village where he narrowly escaped assassination. He will not, it appears, be tried for his biggest crime, the invasion of Iran, an aggression that inflicted 1.5 million casualties on both nations.

Saddam’s regime ferociously repressed rebellious Kurdish tribes, and used poison gas against them ­ as it did on a much broader scale against Iranian troops. But these attacks occurred while Iraq was fighting to the death against Iran, and its chronically rebellious Kurdish tribes had defected to the Iranian invaders.

Similarly, Saddam’s forces killed many Shia insurgents after President Bush Senior called on them to rebel against Baghdad. Previously, Israel, Iran and the US had been stirring up, arming and financing Kurdish rebels in Iraq for decades.

Under international law, Saddam Hussein had every right to fight rebels seeking to either overthrow Iraq’s recognized government, and those trying to secede from Iraq. Across the border, Turkey waged similar war against its Kurdish rebels.

Recall that when Imperial Britain ruled Iraq, which it created to grab Mesopotamian oil, that later-day saint of neoconservatives, Winston Churchill, ordered the RAF to use poison gas against `Kurds, Pathans, and other primitive tribesmen.’ When Iraqis rose in the 1920’s against British rule, Her Majesty’s soldiers gunned down thousands of Iraqis.

Ironically, US occupation forces in Iraq are doing the exact same things as Saddam’s thuggish regime: bombing and blasting rebels (this time Sunnis); holding 18,000 political prisoners; torturing and executing suspects.

In Iraq, Uncle Sam in the new Saddam.

President Hussein should face trial for his many crimes, but only a fair one in a proper legal venue, under the full western and international law. Otherwise, much of the world will regard the trial as a farce, and merely victor’s `justice.’

Saddam’s accomplices should also be brought to trial. That means members of the Reagan Administration and Thatcher cabinet who armed and financed Iraq, gave it intelligence, and waged a naval war against Iran in the Gulf. To date, only one person, a Dutch businessman, has been convicted of supplying Iraq with chemical precursors to make poison gas. And let’s not forget the Saudis and Kuwaitis who financed Iraq’s war against Iran and fueled Saddam’s war machine. All this has vanished down the memory hole.

The trial should be moved at once to the UN tribunal at the Hague, where real justice will take its course. This case is too important for a Texas style judicial lynching. A fair trial will establish an important international legal precedent and model of acceptable ­ and unacceptable - political behavior by national leaders.

Those citing the WWII Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders as legal precedent for Baghdad’s kangaroo court should read the magisterial words of that court’s Chief Justice, later, US Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Jackson, who declared, `no political or economic situation can ever justify the crime of aggression.’

That, of course, includes aggression against Iran, and aggression against Iraq.


  • The Vatican’s Swiss Guard is celebrating its 500th anniversary. And a glorious anniversary it is. Most people don’t know that the Swiss Confederation is the world’s oldest living democracy. Or that from 1300-1570 Swiss pikemen and halbardiers were the most ferocious, feared and invincible soldiers in Europe. The Swiss Guards remind us that Switzerland won and kept its independence when all others suffered under tyranny by the force of their arms and their courage ­ known throughout Renaissance Europe as `the Furia Helvetica.’

  • I watched Harry Belafonte on CNN last night take on Wolf Blitzer and turn him into chop suey. Hats off to the great Belafonte, who has taken upon himself the task of speaking truth to the American public at a time when they have heard nothing but a torrent of lies about the war in Iraq and the rapid erosion of their civil rights.

  • Israel said this week it `cannot tolerate’ Iran developing nuclear capability. This from a nation that has 200 or so nuclear weapons and came very close to using them during the 1973 war against Syria and Egypt. The Israelis are gearing up to attack Iran, with tacit support from the Bush Administration ­ a major new expansion of George Bush’s Christian crusade against the Muslim World. How about some talk of regional nuclear disarmament or arms control instead of more threats of war?

Published at since 1995 with permission, as a courtesy and in appreciation.

To read previous columns by Mr. Margolis: Click here

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